Jamaica Gleaner / Last week’s Music Diaries focused on four of the better-known recording artistes who were born in the month of February and who helped to make the month a standout one in the world of entertainment. But notwithstanding the monumental roles they seemed to have played, the four (Bob Marley, Derrick Harriott, Bunny Rugs and Natalie Cole) remain just a small part of the reason why the month is so lavishly decorated.
When we add to that, Reggae Month, Black History Month, Heart Month, Jamaica Day, Dennis Brown’s birth anniversary and Valentine’s Day (which coincides with Ash Wednesday this year), one wonders how entertainment enthusiasts will be able to manoeuvre themselves to avoid being short-changed, because of the profusion of events, which could inevitably lead to clashes. And come to think of it, ironically, it’s the shortest month of the year.
Be that as it may, the activities and events for Reggae Month continue year after year with the main coordination of the events being entrusted to the Jamaica Reggae Industry Association (JaRIA) and its chairman Ibo Cooper.
Dennis Brown has cemented his position in the annals of Jamaican popular music and as a mainstay in Reggae Month celebrations through his numerous hits, his affable character and his internationalisation of Jamaica’s reggae music. The February 1-born artiste first came to public attention as a 12-year old with the recording, No Man Is An Island , and an album of the same name for producer Clement Dodd’s Studio 1 Label in 1969.
Working with other producers into the turn of the decade, Brown released a raft of hit recordings for producers Derrick Harriott, Niney the Observer, Lloyd the Matador, Phil Pratt, Randy’s and Joe Gibbs. They included Lips Of Wine , Wichita Lineman, Baby Don’t Do It, Things In Life, Black Magic Woman, Casanova, What About The Half, Silhouettes and Money In My Pocket , the last of which precipitated his success on the international circuit. The hits continued to flow incessantly up to the latter half of the decade: Sitting and Watching, Coming Home, All Night Long, My Time and Your Love Got A Hold On Me . The albums Words of Wisdom , Foul Play and Spellbound were also big sellers.
SHOWPLACE OF REGGAE Reggae Month, which was instituted in February 2008 by a proclamation of the Government of Jamaica in January of that year, saw the ministries of information, culture, youth and sports, being charged with the responsibility of ‘developing activities to make Reggae Month an international phenomenon and making Jamaica the showplace of reggae music for the world’. Dennis Brown – the Crown Prince of Reggae, and Bob Marley – the renowned King of Reggae and a recipient of the Order of Merit from the Jamaican Government, were the main protagonists in this initial thrust to promote the country’s social, cultural and economic development. Brown was conferred with the Order of Distinction on August 6, 2011 for his contribution to music, and remains the only Jamaican in popular music to be interred in the National Heroes Park.
Somewhere amid the tumultuous political climate of the late 1960s, the reggae phenomenon was born. The musicians, vocalists and record producers who played vital roles in its creation cannot go unmentioned. Were it not for them, we perhaps might never have a Reggae Month or an International Reggae Day. The stories relating to the genre’s development have been nothing less than intriguing, fascinating and controversial. The coining of the name reggae, for instance, seemed at first to have nothing to do with music. According to the late vocalist/record producer Clancy Eccles, the word was a corruption of the word ‘Streggae’, which referred to a loose woman. Others like producer Bunny Lee will tell you that the word reggae referred to an imitation of the innovative shuffling sound created by an organ or guitar in the recordings.
The singing duo, Larry and Alvin, is one that is frequently mentioned, whenever the topic of reggae’s creation emerge. Their recording of Nanny Goat , remains something more like an anthem in dancehall circles, to this day. With Bunny Lee as producer, Stranger Cole as vocalist and Lester Sterling as saxophonist, Bangarang , in that same year, laid a strong claim as the recording that started the process. With Harry Johnson as producer, No More Heartaches , performed by the Beltones, is also cited as being among the first reggae recordings. But after all is said and done, to my mind, Baby Why, by The Cables, with producer Clement Dodd in the producer’s chair and Jackie Mittoo as the main orchestrator, appears to be the first recording with a truly reggae feel.